It all started when I wrote as part of my New Year's Resolution that I planned to climb Mt Kinabalu before the end of this year.
Su Ann of quaintly.net had sent me an e-mail saying that if I'm going, she'd wanna tag along.
Though I was initially skeptical of having an 18-year-old school girl climb a mountain with me, I thought I could use some company. After some planning together over e-mail, we're on our way to our first ever mountain-climbing expedition.
Our trip didn't exactly start off on a good note.
Because it was already close to midnight when I touched down at Kota Kinabalu, I thought it would be a better idea if I hired a car instead of paying ridiculous charges for a taxi to take us to Kinabalu Park, located some 2 hours away.
I got a Proton Wira for RM170 a day, which is all fine and dandy.
There's only one problem though. As if it isn't difficult as it is to drive at an unfamiliar place at night, Sabah doesn't exactly have the best street signs to direct us to Kinabalu Park.
As a result, we got lost and ended up in a quaint little town called Tuaran. Lucky its called 'Tuaran' and not 'Tua lan'. Heck, I wouldn't wanna get lost in a town where all the men have huge testicles.
When we finally arrived at our destination some four hours later, it was already 4:30am. Great. Just two hours of sleep before we have to trek six hours up the mountain.
A lot of people think that Mount Kinabalu is South-East Asia's tallest mountain, but that is not true. According to Wikipedia, it is only the third tallest after Myanmar and Indonesia's.
Still, at 4095m high, it is by no means gonna be a walk in the park, especially for beginners.
After registering ourselves at the Park HQ (costing us about RM70 per person for guide, porter and park fees), we set out to Timpohon Gate at 10am to begin our ascend.
Our guide-cum-porter is a friendly local by the name of Jikon Michael. As Su Ann and I later found out, he's probably the best guide beginners like us could ever wish for.
Most people take two days to ascend and descend the mountain, staying overnight at Laban Rata resthouse (RM50 per dorm bed) before the final attack of the summit.
The first thing that we passed by is a signboard telling us the fastest recorded time up and down Mt Kinabalu. Apparently, some crazy Mexican called Ricardo Mejia managed to complete the mountain in 2 hours 50 minutes!
Who does he think he is? Speedy Gonzales?!
The first kilometre of the climb was fairly easy. We passed by a beautiful waterfall and strolled along well-defined paths amid the lush rainforest that Kinabalu Park is famous for.
Yea, right now you see us goofing around acting like we're damn tired in this photo. Later on we didn't even need to act 'cos we were really damn exhausted.
The whole journey up to the Laban Rata resthouse is about 6km, which should take us about 6 hours.
Along the way, we were treated to spectacular views of rare plants and vegetation.
It's not uncommon to spot some hungry wildlife looking for food as well as well.
Mt Kinabalu is described as one of the most accessible mountain, and rightfully so. Every 800m or so, there are pondoks or huts where you could rest your feet and drink fresh untreated rainwater in tanks.
If you want to, you could even use the toilets.
And it even comes with flush!
And you don't even have to pay twenty cents!
Apart from some light rain, the weather has been kind to us for the better part of the journey. Su Ann and I chatted along the way to keep each other entertained. We were wondering why there were people who made it to Laban Rata but chose to gave up before reaching the summit. A bit wasted, right?
3km in, we started to notice that our surroundings are getting a bit misty.
The mist gives us an illusion that we're in some kinda surreal alien world, which is actually not so far apart from the truth.
Everything around us didn't feel like anything we were familiar with. It was like we're transported into a completely different dimension.
A bit further down the tracks, we spotted some strange-looking trees that look like they come from straight out from a horror movie. You know, the type that have tree branches grabbing you from behind when you're not looking and strangle you to death.
Slowly, the path we trudged on changed from soil to rocks.
We started to feel the punishment on our bodies. Our legs were sore and every step just seems to get harder and harder.
A drop in temperature as we go higher in altitude meant that we cannot stop to rest for too long or we'll get really cold and slow down easily.
5km into the journey our worst nightmare happened.
It rained again. First it was just a few drops, then it was like the water pipes at the Malaysian Parliament building just broke.
Mother Nature has well and truly turned the taps on.
Under such heavy rain, the final 500m trek up to Laban Rata resthouse was so difficult that I could sense the exasperation on Su Ann's voice. Instead of climbing up rock staircases, we were climbing mini waterfalls.
It was cold, wet and we were all very, very exhausted.
"How long more to goooooo?" she asked with a tinge of frustration.
"Just a little bit more. Real food and hot showers ahead!"
That is the only encouragement I could give. Fact is, I was just as frustrated as to why I am subjecting myself to this sort of torture.
By the time we reached Laban Rata, we were soaking wet from head to toe. Su Ann took a well-deserved hot shower and hung out with some climbers she met along the way.
I could only managed to change into my semi-dry clothes before falling into a heap on my bed and pass out.
Later that evening I developed a fever. Maybe its the rain, but my body temperature shot up so high it's not funny. I was weak and miserable.
All through the night, all I could hope for was that I would be in a good enough condition to climb to the summit the following day.
For a tourist accomodation that has been established for such a long time, it is disappointing that Laban Rata doesn't even have basic drying facilities for our wet clothes and shoes.
We were not allowed to but because we had no choice, Su Ann and I dried our wet socks and shoes over our in-room heater.
Lucky Laban Rata didn't burn down.
Because my sports shirt was still wet and cold, I folded it into a rectangle and placed it over my forehead to ease my fever. It helped.
After barely 4 hours of sleep, we woke up around 1am and got suited up for the second part of our climb.
And that's Su Ann putting the G-string torchlight over her head. Haha!
Not a lot of pictures here, but suffice to say this was definitely the most gruelling part of the climb. The rocky path up to the summit is unforgivingly steep. At some point, the level of inclination was almost 70 degrees, with only a rope separating us between life and certain death.
The weather up here is icy cold and although I was wearing four layers (windbreaker + sweater + thermal underwear + my layer of fat), it was almost impossible to stay warm and focused. My lack of sleep, fever and the lack of oxygen as we go higher makes mobility even more difficult.
At one point Su Ann and I were practically walking every ten steps and collapsing, walking every ten steps and collapsing... until we almost felt like giving up.
"Never again..." she muttered lifelessly as she sprawled down next to me.
We had not even a single ounce of energy left in us. Now we know why some people turned back even when they were so close to reaching the summit.
But we're not ready to give up. Not just yet.
Somehow, we managed to dig down deep inside ourselves and stand up.
And we kept going.
Relying on nothing mroe but 100% pure determination alone.
We really, really wanted to reach the top.
By 5:30am, we witnessed the break of dawn.
One by one, the many famous features of the Kinabalu's mountain peak began to reveal themselves. It was a sight to behold.
The magnificent faraway landscape.
The South Peak. That's the image at the back of the RM1 note.
The St John's Peak.
And the grand daddy of 'em all, The Low's Peak. The highest point in the whole of Malaysia.
Su Ann got a sudden surge of adrenaline and pushed forward. For me however, the fever and altitude sickness were starting to consume me.
Only 15 metres left to go.
As she pressed ahead towards Low's Peak, I followed slowly behind trying to stay conscious. I was as pale as a ghost. Many times I felt like vomitting, but nothing came out.
Su Ann was waiting for me. I dragged myself towards to sign post.
And finally, we reached the peak!
Then we took this photo.
Yes, after two days of hiking, battling sickness, climb 8.7km up the tallest mountain in Malaysia, our moment of pride was ruined by a Japanese photographer in the background and a silly-looking Chinese lady wearing a puffy jacket in the front.
Here's a better picture.
I felt awesome to have made it to the top. I have never climbed a mountain before on my own. This is the first time I did it and I felt so damn good about myself.
I felt exactly how it feels like to be standing at Low's Peak... on top of the world!
Unfortunately for Su Ann, things took a downhill from there. No pun intended .:P
As she was making her way down from Low's Peak, the girl sprained her ankle. Badly.
It was so bad, our guide-cum-porter Jikon had to piggyback her down to Laban Rata. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the girl had to be put on a stretcher to be carried down the the foot of the mountain. A lot of climbers who saw the incident must have thought that someone died. Haha!
Ok, so my travel partner was carried away by our guide.
How about me?
I was left alone to make my way down the treacherous Kinabalu mountain peak carrying TWO bags!
My bag and HIS bag. Hey, I thought you're supposed to be my porter!
I still wasn't feeling well. To make things worse, halfway down my walking stick was broken.
So much for a canggih-RM42-metal-alloy-walking-stick-with-suspension-spring-somemore-dun-pray-pray.
When I arrived downhill at the 4km point, Su Ann Lim, being the one tough cookie that she is, managed to get off the stretcher. Joining me, she even managed made it all the way down the mountain by herself, sprained ankle and all.
It was raining all the way down too. But heck, does that even matter? We've already made it all the way to the top of Mount Kinabalu. And we are ROCK STARS! ;)
Though Su Ann and I had never even met before this, I reckon she has been a fantastic travel partner to be on my side. Thanks for a memorable experience and for being such an absolute legend! Looking forward to travelling together again.
Here's a video of our Mt Kinabalu trip.
I learnt a lot of things about this trip. When we went to Mt Kinabalu, we were exposed to the spirit of comradeship. We gave each other encouragement and worked as a team until we successfully completed the journey. The expedition had changed me and I believe I am now a better person.
Oh, and I learnt all these without even having to jump out of a plane in North Pole.